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Figures of Speech - Definitions and Examples Use of Figures
The paragraph may be defined as a group of sentences that are closely
related in thought and which serve one common purpose. Not only do they
preserve the sequence of the different parts into which a composition is
divided, but they give a certain spice to the matter like raisins in a
plum pudding. A solid page of printed matter is distasteful to the reader;
it taxes the eye and tends towards the weariness of monotony, but when it
is broken up into sections it loses much of its heaviness and the
consequent lightness gives it charm, as it were, to capture the reader.
Paragraphs are like stepping-stones on the bed of a shallow river, which
enable the foot passenger to skip with ease from one to the other until
he gets across; but if the stones are placed too far apart in attempting
to span the distance one is liable to miss the mark and fall in the water
and flounder about until he is again able to get a foothold. 'Tis the
same with written language, the reader by means of paragraphs can easily
pass from one portion of connected thought to another and keep up his
interest in the subject until he gets to the end.
Throughout the paragraph there must be some connection in regard to the
matter under consideration,--a sentence dependency. For instance, in the
same paragraph we must not speak of a house on fire and a runaway horse
unless there is some connection between the two. We must not write
"The fire raged with fierce intensity, consuming the greater part of the
large building in a short time." "The horse took fright and wildly dashed
down the street scattering pedestrians in all directions." These two
sentences have no connection and therefore should occupy separate and
distinct places. But when we say--"The fire raged with fierce intensity
consuming the greater part of the large building in a short time and the
horse taking fright at the flames dashed wildly down the street scattering
pedestrians in all directions,"--there is a natural sequence, viz., the
horse taking fright as a consequence of the flames and hence the two
expressions are combined in one paragraph.
As in the case of words in sentences, the most important places in a
paragraph are the beginning and the end. Accordingly the first sentence
and the last should by virtue of their structure and nervous force,
compel the reader's attention. It is usually advisable to make the first
sentence short; the last sentence may be long or short, but in either
case should be forcible. The object of the first sentence is to state a
point clearly; the last sentence should enforce it.
It is a custom of good writers to make the conclusion of the paragraph a
restatement or counterpart or application of the opening.
In most cases a paragraph may be regarded as the elaboration of the
principal sentence. The leading thought or idea can be taken as a nucleus
and around it constructed the different parts of the paragraph. Anyone
can make a context for every simple sentence by asking himself questions
in reference to the sentence. Thus--"The foreman gave the order"--
suggests at once several questions; "What was the order?" "to whom did he
give it?" "why did he give it?" "what was the result?" etc. These
questions when answered will depend upon the leading one and be an
elaboration of it into a complete paragraph.
If we examine any good paragraph we shall find it made up of a number of
items, each of which helps to illustrate, confirm or enforce the general
thought or purpose of the paragraph. Also the transition from each item
to the next is easy, natural and obvious; the items seem to come of
themselves. If, on the other hand, we detect in a paragraph one or more
items which have no direct bearing, or if we are unable to proceed
readily from item to item, especially if we are obliged to rearrange the
items before we can perceive their full significance, then we are
justified in pronouncing the paragraph construction faulty.
No specific rules can be given as to the construction of paragraphs. The
best advice is,--Study closely the paragraph structure of the best
writers, for it is only through imitation, conscious or unconscious of
the best models, that one can master the art.
The best paragraphist in the English language for the essay is Macaulay,
the best model to follow for the oratorical style is Edmund Burke and for
description and narration probably the greatest master of paragraph is
the American Goldsmith, Washington Irving.
A paragraph is indicated in print by what is known as the indentation of
the line, that is, by commencing it a space from the left margin.
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